Erin Barta: Building a Program from the Ground Up

Erin Barta:  Building a Program from the Ground Up

Over the past nine months, Erin Barta has been diligently working to implement the Academy’s Scientist-in-Residence Program (SiR) in Syracuse, New York. While this is a first for Erin after graduating in 2014 from Clark University’s Master’s Program in International Development and Social Change, it is also a first for the Academy. Syracuse’s SiR Program is the first expansion of the program outside of New York City.

The guiding principle behind SiR is that students who are exposed to science through inquiry-based learning techniques are more likely to succeed in—and be engaged with—science. SiR matches a scientist with a public school teacher and the teacher’s students, and advises them on developing a science project that follows the scientific method. The scientist will act as a mentor to both teacher and students and share their insights on the scientific method, project design and presentation of results.

A crash course in program management

Erin’s work is primarily concerned with building and supporting these budding partnerships. She collaborates with the scientists and staff at the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry, and with the dedicated teachers and administrators in the Syracuse public school system, to ensure that students are learning the techniques that will allow them to thrive in the STEM fields.

“Adapting the SiR program to Syracuse has been a crash course in program management. I have a front row seat to what it means to build a program from the ground up,” said Erin. “As the academic year draws to a close so will this year’s program. After celebrating our participants’ efforts and successes, the upcoming months will be spent exploring ways to make SiR even more rewarding for students.”

Paying it forward

Erin believes in SiR because she understands the importance of a mentor. As a college student she was inspired by faculty who were generous with their time and feedback. According to Erin, a good mentor can help a person, “gain a better sense of self, and radically reframe notions of our own capabilities. In my case, I was emboldened to pursue scholarships, internships and graduate school opportunities that I previously thought were out of my reach.”

According to Erin, mentorship provides a model for, “existing and engaging” in the world. A good mentor can provide an example of how to navigate all the competing factors between personal goals and obligations, versus those of the professional career. “Mentorship makes us privy to the experience of wisdom of those who have gone before us, which reconfigures our vision of what is possible.”

Erin and SiR are a well-made match. SiR seeks to encourage high school students to pursue their scientific interests in an academically rigorous manner, while providing their teachers with a resource to help their students succeed.

When she completes her VISTA service in September, Erin will continue to build her experience in project management and development in the nonprofit sector in Syracuse.